Whether a given dose of ouabain will produce inotropic or toxic effects depends on factors that affect the apparent affinity (K0.5) of the Na/K pump for ouabain. To accurately resolve these factors, especially the effect of intracellular Na concentration (Nai), we have applied three complementary techniques for measuring the K0.5 for ouabain in cultured embryonic chick cardiac myocytes. Under control conditions with 5.4 mM Ko, the value of the K0.5 for ouabain was 20.6 +/- 1.2, 12.3 +/- 1.7, and 6.6 +/- 0.4 microM, measured by voltage-clamp, Na-selective microelectrode, and equilibrium [3H]ouabain-binding techniques, respectively. A significant difference in the three techniques was the time of exposure to ouabain (30 s-30 min). Since increased duration of exposure to ouabain would increase Nai, monensin was used to raise Nai to investigate what effect Nai might have on the apparent affinity of block by ouabain. Monensin enhanced the rise in Na content induced by 1 microM ouabain. In the presence of 1 microM [3H]ouabain, total binding was found to be a saturating function of Na content. Using the voltage-clamp method, we found that the value of the K0.5 for ouabain was lowered by nearly an order of magnitude in the presence of 3 microM monensin to 2.4 +/- 0.2 microM and the magnitude of the Na/K pump current was increased about threefold. Modeling the Na/K pump as a cyclic sequence of states with a single state having high affinity for ouabain shows that changes in Nai alone are sufficient to cause a 10-fold change in K0.5. These results suggest that Nai reduces the value of the apparent affinity of the Na/K pump for ouabain in 5.4 mM Ko by increasing its turnover rate, thus increasing the availability of the conformation of the Na/K pump that binds ouabain with high affinity.

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